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Campaign for Smart Justice Challenges State to Be Top 10 in Reform, Instead of Number 1 in Rate of Incarceration

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Nicole McAfee, Smart Justice Campaign Manager, 830-334-1660; nmcafee@acluok.org

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Legislative leadership has the opportunity this session to work towards Governor Stitt’s vision and further enact the desires of Oklahoma voters, by becoming a top ten state in making necessary changes to our criminal legal system by pursuing meaningful reform. Dozens of bills have been authored by members in both chambers that take best practices and suggestions for changes and continue steps to not only stop growth, but work towards decarceration in Oklahoma prisons and jails. 

“Criminal justice reform has become a buzzword in this building that folks on both sides of the aisle see has popular support. However, at the end of the day the discussions become about crimes and compromises, not about the people, the constituents, like me, whose lives are affected by an inequitable and unjust legal system. We want more than words and promises this session--we want meaningful reform that is going to affect the number of people currently incarcerated and the projected growth,” says Sonya Pyles, a Criminal Justice Reform Advocate. 

In Oklahoma, public opinion has remained favorable towards reform, with a majority of voters hoping to see the legislature lead on expanding it retroactively. And, as bills from Governor Fallin’s task force continued to be heard and implemented, there is an opportunity to search for new solutions, especially those that explore why and how we send so many people to prison in the first place. 

"Unaffordable cash bail is one of the key drivers of the high pretrial detention rates in our state, particularly when it comes to the women of Oklahoma, who are incarcerated at twice the national average,” says Timantha Norman, Site Manager of The Bail Project-Tulsa. "It is long past time for policy makers to address this issue with the urgency it deserves and take meaningful steps to create a pretrial system that works for all Oklahomans regardless of race, wealth, gender or background."

“We have seen reform come out of the legislature, but very little of it has touched the pre-trial system and the burden money bail places on those who can least afford it. What we have currently is a two tiered system of justice. Money bail is supposed to be used as a mechanism to secure reappearance in court, but the reality is often that instead it becomes a mechanism for detention. For the same crime, those who can afford to pay bail can buy their freedom, while those who can’t afford it are stuck in jail and risk losing their jobs, housing, and even custody of their children, all while they are presumed innocent by the state.” says Nicole McAfee, Smart Justice Campaign Manager for the ACLU of Oklahoma. 

“Criminal legal reform bills have begun to make their way onto committee agendas, but there is a lot of opportunity left on the table. We hope this new legislature will show their commitment to bipartisan solutions by fighting for continued reform in their caucuses, in committees, and on the chamber floors. We set the most vulnerable people in our state up for failure and recidivism, but legislators this session can show they care for fellow Oklahomans by passing real changes to this system,” says Nicole McAfee, Smart Justice Campaign Manager for the ACLU of Oklahoma.

Advocates for substantive reform to our criminal legal system are asked to attend an event this morning talk with legislators about what is happening to reforms this session, and why criminal justice reform is the most urgent issue facing the state. Today, February 19th at 9:30am at the Oklahoma State Capitol, criminal justice reform advocates will speak to the press and then to legislators about the importance for reform, what that should look like, and demand accountability from the people crafting public policy.

More details can be found at: http://bit.ly/okdayofaction19